Pierre Sauvage, the award-winning documentary filmmaker, celebrates the quiet heroism that contradicted armies of the morally silent in the Holocaust.
His films include “Weapons of the Spirit,” about Christian peasants who hid 5,000 Jews in Le Chambon, France, and “Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust.”
“And Crown Thy Good,” his latest work, is the saga of Varian Fry, a New York intellectual who arranged safe passage to the US for 2,000 Jews and non-Jews stranded in Nazi-occupied Marseille, France, between 1940-1941.
“It’s rare for intellectuals to get their hands dirty and enter the ring,” Sauvage told the IJN from Los Angeles prior to his Oct. 28 talk at the annual Fred Marcus Memorial Holocaust Lecture in Denver.
“No one ever imagined that mild-mannered Varian Fry was the kind of person who would risk his life and do this.”
Selected for the daunting task by the Emergency Relief Committee in New York, Fry was assisted by Hiram Bingham IV, US consul in Marseille; and an intriguing network of Americans.
Fry and his group forged documents and established clandestine escape routes over the Pyrenees to Lisbon, where boats waited to take Jewish and anti-fascist refugees trapped in Nazi-occupied northern France to the US.
Under the “Surrender on Demand” clause of the Franco-German armistice issued June 22, 1940, authorities were ordered to extradite non-French Jews and anti-Nazis to Germany, where they were deported to concentration camps.
Thanks to Fry, cultural icons Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Jacques Lipschitz, Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton and Franz Werfel managed to escape to the US, as did thousands of lesser-known anti-fascists.
“Some people complain that this was an elitist organization,” Sauvage says. “That’s a bum a rap, for many reasons.
“First, many of the artists were particularly vulnerable to the Nazis. Secondly, the mission quickly expanded to include others. Finally, Fry was rescuing people he cared deeply for as a lover of the arts and an intellectual. They really meant something to him.
“There’s an old Jewish value that says you start by caring about the people who are closest to you, and then enlarging that circle of responsibility. That’s exactly what Fry was doing.”